That time two F-14 fighter jets were diverted to USS Midway (the carrier’s flight deck and infrastructure could not support regular operation of the large, heavy Tomcat)

That time two F-14 fighter jets were diverted to USS Midway (the carrier’s flight deck and infrastructure could not support regular operation of the large, heavy Tomcat)

By Dario Leone
Apr 11 2023
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There is no information that implies an F-14 ever flew from USS Midway. The interesting thing, however, is that long ago, two Tomcats did land on and launch from the Midway.

Visitors to the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California, encounter an F-14 Tomcat on static display on the flight deck. According to US Naval Institute, there is no information that implies an F-14 ever flew from the Midway (CV-41), and history shows that F-14 squadrons were not assigned, as the carrier’s flight deck and infrastructure could not support regular operation of the large, heavy aircraft.

The interesting thing, however, is that long ago, two F-14s did land on and launch from the Midway, as Mike Crutch tells in his book CVW: US Navy Carrier Air Wing Aircraft 1975-2015.

Book tells the story of when two F-14 Tomcat were diverted to the USS Midway
The VF-114 F-14A that diverted to USS Midway.

On Sep. 29, 1982, following an alert launch from USS Enterprise (CVN-65) for one of the probing Soviet flights, AARDVARK 111 (F-14A BuNo 159874, crewed by LT Rick Berg and LT Lee Ducharme) experienced thick fog during the return to the ship as did LION 202 (F-14A BuNo 159859, piloted by LT Tom Lawson with RIO LT Dave Willis). LSOs had reported seeing ‘only the wheels’ of Berg’s F-14 during a wave off, and both Tomcats went into an airborne hold while everyone considered the options.

The immediate problem of the F-14s’ fuel state was addressed by a gallant crew in a VA-95 Green Lizards KA-6D tanker, which reportedly ‘disappeared’ as soon as it left one of Enterprise’s catapults. Shore options in the far off Aleutian Islands never offered themselves due to their own weather situations, and the prospects of ditching were not favourable, not least due to the water temperature and likely survivability of the F-14 crews.

USS Midway (CVA-41)
USS Midway (CV-41)

Some 100 miles east of the growing predicament, USS Midway (CV-41) was operating in an emissions control (EMCON) environment to remain as covert as possible from Soviet electronic ‘ears’. The notion of diverting the Tomcats to a ship not equipped to handle F-14 operations was initially discounted by the decision makers in the island of Enterprise, but with all other options exhausted the CO of VF-114 (CDR Jay Yakeley, arguably the fleet’s most experienced F-14 aviator) was finally given permission to send Midway’s Air Ops department the F-14 ‘trap’ data for them to assess the success factor of such a recovery; the matter of launching the Tomcats off Midway would wait for later.

The weather situation for Midway was itself worsening, having already recovered the valiant Intruder tanker from VA-95 along with its own aircraft, and was running at flank speed to stay one step ahead of a fog bank. Finally, AARDVARK 111 and LION 202 were handed off to Midway’s air traffic controllers for recovery and, after getting around some initial difficulties associated passing certain data unknown but essential for the F-14s landing ‘in the clear’ on the radio, the F-14s commenced their approach as the Midway turned into the wind towards the fog bank; time was running out fast.

That time two F-14 fighter jets were diverted to USS Midway (the carrier’s flight deck and infrastructure could not support regular operation of the large, heavy Tomcat)
LION 202 and AARDVARK 111 on the flight deck of USS Midway.

LT Berg, in his account of the event published in The Hook/Fall 2004 issue, describes his biggest surprise on breaking out of the ever-lowering cloud ceiling was the sight of Midway, being so very different in size and layout from that of the comparatively newer generation of carriers he had landed on before. Thanks to the efforts of everyone, not least the Midway’s powerplant specialists who had coaxed an extra four knots above normal speed from the ship’s boilers, Berg received an ‘OK 2’ from the LSOs (not bad considering CV-41 only had three arrestor wires). The VF-213 Tomcat also trapped successfully, and a few short minutes afterwards the fog bank finally swallowed the ship.

After a night aboard, thoughts turned towards the possibility of getting the stranded F-14s off Midway. It was decided to launch the aircraft, rather than have them out of action until a suitable port visit could winch the aircraft off to then despatch them ‘from the beach’. Enterprise sent a catapult officer and a F-14 launch bar across in what was now clear skies. The VF-114 crew, after making the first F-14 trap aboard Midway the previous night, graciously offered the chance of ‘first Midway F-14 launch’ to Lawson and Willis in LION 202; a gentlemanly act maybe, or as Berg put it ‘..a good confidence check on the catapult system’!

VF-213 F-14D Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-14D Tomcat VF-213 Blacklions, AJ200 / 164347 / 2006.

As both aircraft completed their post-start and pre-take off checks, the VF-213 aircraft took more time than the VF-114 crew could stand and they ended up being first off under the watchful gaze of Midway’s crew enjoying their second bout of excitement in 24 hours. Both launches were marginal but safe, and the Tomcats positioned for a section flyby in full afterburner as a small gesture of thanks for the outstanding teamwork and hospitality demonstrated by Midway and CVW-5 during their time aboard.

Note: as Mike Crutch told to The Aviation Geek Club, the Midway museum F-14 Tomcat is painted in VF-114 and VF-213 colours… though the MODEXes don’t match the divert birds (they missed a trick there!). Also, Midway’s sister-ship Coral Sea did have VF-101 ‘Grim Reapers’ F-14As once land aboard for carrier qualifications, but with strict weight limits.

CVW: US Navy Carrier Air Wing Aircraft 1975-2015 is available to order here.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

F-14 model
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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Comments

  1. Monkey Theatre says:

    test commento

  2. Stephen says:

    Doesn’t the Carrier turn Down Wind for landings?

  3. arrowflight says:

    No. Carriers turn into the wind for both launch and recovery.

  4. gooner says:

    This is to ensure that if they miss the wire they can take back off safely.

  5. ALMozingo says:

    Too big for the carrier, yet the A3D Skywarrior regularly flew off the Midway…..

  6. Gussers says:

    Carriers turn in to the wind and run at high speed. The wind speed is effectively increased by the speed of the ship in to it. Conversely, a headwind is deducted from your airspeed to calculate speed over the ground. So, 20 kts ship plus 15 kts wind would be 35 kts deducted from your airspeed for speed over the ground.

  7. mdd says:

    I was there, attached to VA-93 an A-7E Squadron on board the USS Midway. I knew that the Midway’s days were numbered when I saw the size of the F-14s next to our F-4s and how the elevator and hanger deck couldn’t handle them and our blast deflectors were 1/3 the size needed for the F-14s.

  8. Jim “Jambo” Walsh says:

    Midway was operation off Iran during the ‘80-‘81 hostage crises, When a Connie F-14 came into the break on the wrong ship (Midway at EMCON) We took it and it trapped just fine…I was the LSO. Held it hostage for lots of ice cream and new movies. The engine’s distance apart was problematic for our JBDs. All good fun!

  9. DavidMHoffman2 says:

    IF the Soviets who are monitoring these two ships comprehended what had transpired it probably gave them quite a concerning feeling. “The USN doesn’t just write off its aircrews and aviation assets due to adverse situations, they improvise to the extreme to keep the missions going and save naval aviators and naval aviation assets. We would be wise to not underestimate our main competition for global influence on the Earth’s oceans. They are certainly not easily dissuaded from their missions.”

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